How to defrost a freezer and clean the fridge, if yours is starting to smell...

If the fridge is smelly, or if the freezer has a build-up of ice, knowing how to defrost a freezer and clean your fridge is a must-do job (and we’ll let you know how often you need to do it from now on)

food neatly stacked in freezer
(Image credit: Getty)

Iced up freezer? Smelly fridge? It's probably time you knew how to defrost a freezer and clean your fridge, in one swift job. Cleaning the fridge-freezer is a chore you might have been putting off. Let’s face it, though, if you’ve been wrinkling your nose every time you open the fridge door, puzzling at exactly what caused the sticky patch on a shelf, or trying to force packets into an ice-filled freezer, it’s time to get cracking and clean the fridge-freezer.

Cleaning isn’t just important because the appliance is smelly, sticky and icy, of course. Keeping the fridge-freezer clean will prevent the spread of bacteria, which can survive in there for some time. The strategies below will keep things hygienic but do check the fridge-freezer’s manual, too, for specific instructions so you don’t invalidate your warranty. 

So, get cleaning with these tips, and to prevent problems happening in the first place, always wipe up spills as soon as they happen, plus schedule a regular fridge-freezer cleaning session every three or four months. Note however that if this is regular problem, you may need to upgrade to a frost-free model, so take your pick of the best fridge freezers at the best prices in our buying guide.

1. Clear out before you start

Your fridge-freezer needs to be empty so you can give it a proper clean – in other words, it’s a job best done before the next delivery or food shop when it’s as empty as possible. 

Now: Stash any food not past its use-by date in a cool box. Food from the freezer needs to go into a cool box with ice. 

Later: Check use-by dates weekly and if they’ve been exceeded, you will have to throw out these foods. (We reckon a regular check will get you in better habits for using things up in time, avoiding waste.)

2. Clean the fridge shelves and drawers

These can be taken out of the fridge-freezer for cleaning, making life a whole lot easier.

Now: Remove shelves and drawers and clean with a washing-up liquid solution, using a cloth or sponge to wipe thoroughly. If there’s anything really stuck on, a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda left on should get rid of it. Rinse in water when you’re done, and leave the shelves and drawers to dry naturally.

Later: We’ve said it before and we’re going to say it again… Wipe up spills straightaway to keep the interior of the fridge hygienic.

3. Clean the interior of the fridge

You’ll need to get right inside the cavity of the fridge to eliminate bacteria and rid it of any food crumbs.

Now: Wipe the inside down using a washing-up liquid solution. Make sure you get into any nooks and crannies where bits of food could be lurking. Bicarbonate of soda is your go-to for anything stubborn. Sprinkle on and use a non-scratchy sponge to get rid of the offending patch. Rinse the interior of the fridge using water on a clean cloth, then dry with a clean cloth or kitchen towel. Don’t forget the door seals, which you can use a clean toothbrush to deal with. Make sure you’re gentle, though, so you don’t dislodge them.

Later: Why not invest in a spray bottle so you can squirt the inside of the fridge with your cleaning solution easily?

4. Defrost the freezer

Of course, you might have a frost-free appliance and, if so, you can skip this step. If you need to do it manually, though, here’s the lowdown.

Put a towel underneath the fridge-freezer plus containers to catch the ice, then unplug it and leave the freezer door open. Remove any drawers or shelves that can be taken out now, but you may have to wait until the ice has melted a bit to do this. Leave the ice to melt.

Once the drawers are at room temperature you can clean them with a washing-up liquid solution. Leave to dry. You can clean the inside of the freezer with this, too, once the ice has melted.

Dry the freezer using kitchen towel, and reinsert drawers. Switch on, but let the freezer cool down before you put any food back.

Tip: Don’t use a knife to speed up the defrosting process, nor defrost with a hairdryer.

5. Clean the outside of the fridge-freezer

The exterior of a fridge-freezer needs cleaning as well. The whole family’s hands are in contact with these surfaces, and germs can lurk there.

Now: Use a warm washing-up liquid solution on a clean cloth to wipe down the handles of the fridge-freezer and the door surround. 

Later: It’s worth wiping down handles and the surround of your fridge-freezer more frequently than you do a full clean to keep things hygienic.

6. Wipe before replacing the contents of the fridge-freezer

Don’t put sticky bottles back into the newly cleaned appliance. Wipe any food residue off before you replace them in the fridge.